The Diary of a Madman

by Lu Xun

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What is Lu Xun’s assessment of the past's impact on the present in "Diary of a Madman"?

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Like many works of Modernism, Lu Xun's work embraces a fundamental "shift" in consciousness. Virginia Woolf articulates this condition as a major starting point in understanding the movement:

On or about December 1910 human nature changed.  All human relations shifted,and when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature.

Certainly, this shift in human relations is a part of Lu Xun's work. One of these shifts is the madman's understanding of his past.  In his writing, he realizes that his past and premise of being was rooted in cannibalism.  The past's impact on the lunatic is brutally evident in how he realizes that his own family like his brother and mother were part of the cannibalism that feasted on human flesh.  His understanding of the past also includes that he, himself, might have eaten the flesh of his baby sister without knowing it.  His understanding of the past is one in which he realizes that what he took to be true and "civilized" was anything but and that he was a party to such savagery.  It is this realization in his past that helps to aid the shift from one who was a part of the social order to one who has become a madman railing against it.  In the madman taking a government position, another shift is evident.  The past and present have experienced yet another shift as consciousness is shown to be far from settled and defined.  As with much in being, it is constantly "shifting."

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